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al practice, whenever a law required amendment, to re-enact it, with the amendments introduced into the body of it. It was customary too, at each session, to repeal all former laws,k and either re-enact them in the very same words of the act repealed, or with such amendments as experience might suggest. While they existed only in manuscript, and were promulgated by being publickly read, this mode was attended with peculiar advantages: for the people, at once, heard the whole law on a subject, without being compelled to ask the advice of counsel, or to resort to the clerk's office for a reference to the only copy extant in their county.
The first revisal of our laws was in September, 1632, though none was expressly so called, until March, 1642-3. In March, 1657-8, during the existence of the commonwealth of England, another revisal, was made, adapting the laws of the colony to the state of the church, and the republican institutions of that period. In March, 1661-2, after the restoration, the laws were again revised. One of the avowed objects of this revisal, as expressed in the preamble to the acts, was to repeal and expunge all laws "which might "keep in memory their forced deviation from his majesties obedi"ence." The next revisal was in 1705.. All the foregoing, except Purvis's collection, exist to this day in manuscript. The printed revisals since that of Purvis, are the editions of 1733, 1752, 1769, 1785, 1794, 1803 and 1808. Beverley's and Mercer's abridgments cannot properly be deemed revisals.
In the mode adopted for the revision of the laws, their history and progress have been completely lost. When various and prior acts on the same subject, have been consolidated into single bills, they were enacted into laws, as of the date when the legislature last acted upon them. The sessions acts, from which they were taken, were thrown aside as waste paper, and in the course of a few years, the original law was wholly forgotten. A remarkable instance of this occurred in the act "For a free trade with Indians." It originally passed in 1691; but was incorporated in the manuscript revisal of 1705, without any notice of the act from which, it had been taken. In 1733 it was printed from the act of 1705, and as of that date. This being the first appearance of the law in print, our supreme court decided, that that act, as passed in 1705, was
k See act LXVI. of February, 1631-2 (pa 177) and act I. of Sept 1632 (pa. 179-80) by which all former laws are repealed; and many of the acts of these sessions will be found to be mere repetitions of former ones.
1 Compare act I. of March, 1657-8 (pa. 433) with act I. of March, 1642-3 (pa. 240) and it will at once be discovered that the laws for settling the church government, during the commonwealth, instead of enjoining obedience to the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England, left the people to the exercise of their own judg
the first law which restricted the right of making slaves of Indians.m The act of 1691, having been afterwards discovered in an edition of Purvis,n into which it had been transcribed, the district court of Accomack held that it was the law of the land, and equally restricted the right of making slaves of Indians, with the act of 1705.0 Since then two other manuscripts, containing the same law, as passed in 1691, have been discovered ;p and the supreme court of appeals have unanimously established their authority and decided that "No native American Indian, brought into Virginia since the year 1691, could, under any circumstances, lawfully be made a slave."q Thus it has happened, that under the influence of the first opinion of our supreme courts, arising from the want of access to the laws, thousands of the descendants of Indians have been unjustly deprived of their liberty.
With men of liberal and enlarged minds, it had long been a subject of serious regret that no legislative means were adopted for the preservation of our ancient laws, so very essential to a correct view of our history, and on which so much property depended. The evil began to be so sensibly felt, as it respected questions of property, that the legislature, at the session of 1795, passed an act directing that all the laws and clauses of laws, whether public or private, relating to lands, tenements, or hereditaments, within this commonwealth, at any time passed since the first settlement of Virginia, should be collected, and an edition of one thousand copies published. A committee, consisting of GEORGE WYTHE, JOHN BROWN, JOHN MARSHALL, BUSHROD WASHINGTON and JOHN WICKHAM, was appointed, who, or any three of whom, were requested to carry the intention of the legislature into effect.r. In pursuance of this act, the chairman of the committee (Judge Wythe) addressed a letter to Mr. Jefferson, requesting the use of his collection of laws, which was known to be more complete than any other extant. Mr. Jefferson sent his collection of the printed acts, but immediately afterwards, in a letter to Mr. Wythe, gave such cogent reasons for extending the publication so as to embrace all
m See the case of Hannah & others vs. Davis, in the general court, mentioned in a note to Tucker's Blackstone, vol. 1, part 2, pa. 47. See also the case of Coleman vs. Dick & Patt. I. Wash. 233
n An exact copy is in the possession of Thomas Evans, esquire, of Accomack, now one of the judges of the general court, by whom the editor was favored with the perusal of it.
o See judge Tucker's opinion in Hudgins vs. Wrights, I. Hen. & Mumf. 136.
p Ore belonging to Thomas Jefferson, late president of the United States; the other presented to the editor by the court of Northumberland county, and both now in his
q See 2, Hen. and Mumf. 149, Pallas and others vs. Hill and others.
our laws, that the committee declined entering upon the object of their appointment, till the sense of the legislature could be taken on this more enlarged plan. In the mean time the operation of the act for collecting and publishing all the laws concerning lands was suspended is the following letter from Mr. Jefferson to Mr. Wythe, was submitted to the legislature, by governor MONROE, at the session of 1800, and a bill passed the house of Delegates for publishing a certain number of copies of all the laws; but an amendment having been introduced in the Senate, the bill, on its return to the House of Delegates, was lost.
"Monticello, January 16th, 1795.
"In my letter which accompanied the box containing my collection of printed laws, I promised to send you by post a statement of the contents of that box. On taking up the subject I found it better to take a more general review of the whole of the laws I possess, as well manuscript as printed, as also of those which I do not possess, and suppose to be no longer extant. This general view you will have in the inclosed paper, whereof the articles stated to be printed, constitute the contents of the box I sent you. Those in MS. were not sent, because not supposed to have been within your view, and because some of them will not bear removal, being so rotten, that, on turning over a leaf, it sometimes falls into powder. These I preserve by wrapping and sewing them up in oiled cloth, so that neither air nor moisture can have access to them.Very early in the course of my researches into the laws of Virginia, I observed that many of them were already lost, and many more on the point of being lost, as existing only in single copies in the hands of careful or curious individuals, on whose deaths they would probably be used for waste paper. I set myself, therefore, to work to collect all which were then existing, in order that when the day should come in which the public should advert to the magnitude of their loss in these precious monuments of our property and our history, a part of the regret might be spared by information that a portion has been saved from the wreck, which is worthy of their attention and preservation. In searching after these remains, I spared neither time, trouble nor expense; and am of opinion that scarcely any law escaped me, which was in being as late as the year 1770, in the middle or southern parts of the state. In the northern parts perhaps something might still be found. In the clerks' offices in the ancient counties some of those MS. copies of the laws may possibly still exist which used to be furnished at the public expense to every county before the use of the press was introduced; and in the same places, and in the hands of ancient ma
s See Revised Code, vol. 2, App. No. IX, pa. 129
gistrates, or of their families, some of the fugitive sheets of the laws of separate sessions which have been usually distributed since the practice commenced of printing them. But recurring to what we actually possess, the question is, what means will be the most effectual for preserving these remains from future loss? All the care l can take of them will not preserve them from the worm, from the natural decay of the paper, from accidents of fire, or those of removal, when it is necessary for any public purpose, as in the case of those now sent you. Our experience has proved to us that a single copy, or a few, deposited in MS. in the public offices, cannot be relied on for any length of time. The ravages of fire and of ferocious enemies have had but too much part in producing the very loss we now deplore. How many of the precious works of antiquity were lost, while they existed only in manuscript? Has there ever been one lost since the art of printing has rendered it practicable to multiply and disperse copies? This leads us then to the only means of preserving our laws now under consideration, that is, a multiplication of printed copies. I think therefore that there should be printed at the public expense, an edition of all the faws ever passed by our legislatures that can now be found; that a copy should be deposited in every public library in America, in the principal public offices within the state, and some perhaps in the most distinguished public libraries in Europe, that the rest should be sold to individuals towards reimbursing the expenses of the edi-. tion. Nor do I think that this would be a voluminous work.— The MSS. would probably furnish matter for one printed volume in folio, and would comprehend all the laws from 1624, to 1701, which period includes Purvis. My collection of fugitive sheets forms, as we know, two volumes, and comprehends all the extant laws from 1734, to 1783, and the laws which can be gleaned up, from the revisals, to supply the chasm between 1710, and 1734, with those from 1783, to the close of the present century (by which term the work might be compleated) would not be more than the matter of another volume. So that four volumes in folio probably would give every law ever passed which is now extant: whereas those who wish to possess as many of them as can be procured, must now buy the six folio volumes of revisals, to wit, Purvis, and those of 1732,* 1748,† 1768, 17835 and 1794, and with all of them possess not one half of what they wish. What would be the expense of the edition, I cannot say, nor how much would be reimbursed by the sales; but I am sure it would be moderate compared with the rates which the public have hitherto paid for printing their laws, provided a sufficient latitude be given as to printers and places. The first step would be to make out a single t Printed in 1769. § Printed in 1785,
• Printed in 1733,
Printed in 1752.
copy from the MSS. which would employ a clerk about a year, or something more; to which expense about a fourth should be added for the collation of the MSS. which would employ three persons a time about half a day or a day in every week. As I have al ady spent more time in making myself acquainted with the contents an arrangements of these MSS. than any other person probably ever will, and their condition does not admit their removal to distance, I will chearfully undertake the direction and superintendance of this work, if it can be done in the neighbouring towns of Charlottesville or Milton, farther than which I would not undertake to go from home. For the residue of the work my printed volumes might be delivered to the printer. I have troubled you. with these details, because you are in the place where they may be used for the public service, if they admit of such use, and because the order of assembly, which you mention, shews they are sensible of the necessity of preserving such of those laws as relate to our landed property, and a little further consideration will perhaps con vince them that it is better to do the whole work once for all, tha to be recurring to it by peace-meal, as particular parts of it shath be required, and that too, perhaps, when the materials shall be lost.
The editor having been, for more than twenty years engaged collecting the fugitive sessions acts, and believing that his own co lection added to that of Mr. Jefferson's (with which he was well as sured he would be furnished) formed the only one in existence which was worthy of publication, determined to set about the work, lest by some accident the lapse of a few years might deprive posterity of the remaining documents then within his reach.
On communicating his intention to Mr. Jefferson, he was favored. with the following letter, which at once shews the degree of import ance which that great man attaches to the undertaking, and the opinion which he was pleased to express of the editor's competen cy for the execution of it.
Washington, Jan. 14, 07
"The only object I had in making my collection of the laws of Virginia, was to save all those for the publie which were not then already lost, in the hope that at some future day they might be republished. Whether this be by private or public en erprize, my end will be equally answered: The work divides itself into two very distinct parts, to wit, the printed and the unprinted laws. The former begin in 1662 (Purvis's collection. My collection of these is in strong volumes, well bound, and therefore